The Power of Thought

By Dr. Maya Angelou
The Power of Thought

I first heard of Eric Butterworth back in 1955. At that time I was a performer based in San Francisco, and my voice teacher happened to be a lay minister at the local Unity Church. He took me to his church the first time and I never left. …

What I found to be so compelling in Butterworth’s teachings, and still do, is that the power of God, the essential spirit, is within each of us. We can ignore that, or we can draw upon it and decide to grow. We can heal ourselves—or at least heal ourselves enough to know that we may need the help of a professional. And it’s just a marvelous way of looking at the world. …

Butterworth had an unshakable faith in the power of thought, the power to change not only one’s own life but the world. I think that he also had faith that change would come, and that we have the power to call it up and bring it about sooner by working at it—that change was en route in any case, and we could either help it to grow and mold it to our needs and the needs of others, or be run over by it.

It’s not a condition. It’s a path; it’s a journey. I’m always amazed when people walk up and say, “I’m a Christian.” I always think, “Already? Got it? Goodness gracious. Lucky you.” Well, I’m trying to be a Christian. Working at it and trying to be a Christian is like trying to be a Jew, or trying to be a Buddhist. It’s “practicing” a faith. But in the Christian belief, we are told that the Father, the God, is within. The New Testament states that the Kingdom of Heaven is within you, and so it wasn’t a great leap for me to go from that belief to Butterworth’s teachings about our divine potential. No one clarified that biblical idea for me as much as Butterworth did. He preached not just the Kingdom of God, but the power of the Kingdom of God. They’re two different things. One is static, but the other is active.

Along this path of knowledge, I find that prayer and meditation are elemental. Guidance comes from those practices. Sometimes in meditation one really tries to think of nothing. I do, anyway. I try to not have any focus or use any focus to get away from everything. I try to make myself a quiet vessel, a quiet pool where ideas can rise. Prayer, on the other hand, does focus and keeps the focus in focus. I think that I use both to get myself out of the way. Sometimes our daily problems can so impede our progress to quietude that one needs to step aside. I think when we step aside, when we get apart from everyone else and any other ideas and meditate and pray, I think that we can be led to the knowledge of how to meet our next challenge, whatever it is—whether it’s physical, psychological, practical, social. I believe that.

For me, the consciousness or our divine potential that Butterworth describes begins with the prayer, with the meditation. But it’s most effective when it starts to become automatic, when it becomes unconscious or subconscious. When this happens, people do exactly what they know to do—not what they think they know, not what they should know, not what other people say they know. With this new consciousness, change becomes automatic, so that you don’t have to think about it. It is already in you so firmly, so securely, that you automatically go to the positive thought, and act upon it. As the Chinese say: to know and not to do is, in fact, not to know.

… Some people tell me I have an abundant life, and I have to agree. There’s a song that I’ve known forever,

“My father’s rich in houses and land,
He holds the world ... all the world in his hands.
His coffers are filled with silver and gold.
My father’s riches, he has riches untold,
And I am a child of a king.”

So, if I’m a child of the king and my father has everything and loves me ... You understand?

So, I ask for everything—everything I need, and I have much more than I need. I’m happy to be charitable. My grandmother taught me, “When you get, give. When you learn, teach.” And so, I feel that way. When I was younger and living in New York, friends used to say to me, as they’d give something and I’d like it, “Would you try to hold onto it for, like, two weeks at any rate?” But I’ve found that if you give it away, it comes back in such abundance. I don’t give it away so that it will come back, but that’s just the nature of things. If you plant one tomato seed, and it comes up, it will bring thousands of tomato seeds. Whatever you plant, you’ll get thousands of what you planted. So, you look a fool if you plant a tomato seed and when it’s time to harvest go out and expect to find oranges. I think that’s true in giving. You ask for what you want and then give it away because you’re going to get so much more of it back. I think that what we want, we have to give to the world—kindness, tolerance, generosity, justice, even mercy—in all our dealings. I would encourage you to be very careful that you don’t die before you’ve done something wonderful for humanity.

Butterworth was a twentieth-century Emerson. His mission was to help others realize their spiritual potential and to empower the world through spiritual growth. His teachings focused on what a human being is and what a human being can do to live abundantly. He’s helped me to live more abundantly, and he can help you to live more abundantly, too. People say that I am remembered by various things, but I hope one of them would be the encouragement to live the life you want to live. Live your life so that you will not leave too many things undone. Live the life you sing about. Live the life. That’s it.


Excerpt from the Foreword to Discover the Power Within You. Used with permission of the author. Dr. Maya Angelou continues to be hailed as one of the great voices of contemporary literature. As a poet, educator, historian, best-selling author, actress, playwright, civil-rights activist, producer and director, she traveled the world, spreading her legendary wisdom. Learn more at mayaangelou.com.